Low Temperature Alpine Toilets

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MR

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Jan 10, 2012, 4:53:29 PM1/10/12
to Managing Human Waste in the Wild
Dear Group,

I am a new member to the group, being spurred into action by the
impending replacement of the toilet system at one of our alpine huts
in New Zealand. The hut is located at 2200m and is in snow 4-5 months
of the year (if we are lucky). The toilets typically freeze a few
times a year during July (southern hemisphere), but temperatures
rarely get too far below freezing. We currently have two flush
toilets in the hut, and a septic tank system with discharge field,
which have reached the end of their usefulness. The current system
discharges treated black water onto rock slopes below the hut, which
is the reason for changing the system given we are in the middle of a
world heritage site.

Options for a replacement system include separating grey water to the
discharge field via a filter (including the existing septic tank), and
dealing with the black water/solids separately. We have been
considering either low water systems that require pump out (by a snow
groomer - were are next to a ski field) or fly out by a helicopter.
Alternatively, a compost system that provides lower end mass could be
carted out, either by pack or barrel.

Usage is currently around 500 bunk nights per year for the 24 bunk
hut, but we would count on at least 1000 for any new design. The main
use is during winter time, and people tend to eat big meals . . . .

My question is what experience do people have on the use of composting
toilets for intermittant use situations, with generally cold
conditions. The hut is powered (this is the only flush toilet and
powered hut we have in an alpine setting in the country - we are not
too much like the European Alps fortunately), but power is turned off
when the hut is unattended. Also, if there is testing that could be
done or would be useful to feed into a larger body of knowledge, then
we would definately be in favour or installing a bit of extra
instrumentation in the system to monitor its performance (temperature,
humidity, mass produced etc).

Personally I am tempted to go for a simple self contained on-grade
compost toilet like a Biolet, and see how is goes in this setting
without having to fully commit to any system in particular. If
nothing else it simplifies access and installation issues, and makes
it more feasible for use in other remote huts without mains power.
Ideally we would like to get people more in touch with dealling with
their 'deposits' so club members having to pack it out the year after
would be good for the awareness factor too.

Thanks for your time and I look forward to adding our experiences on
this forum.

Kind regards

Michael Richardson


David Toole

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Jan 10, 2012, 7:11:07 PM1/10/12
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Hi Michael

I can speak to the experience at the Alpine Club of Canada huts

http://www.alpineclubofcanada.ca/

click on alpine huts

You can see we have a few, and many years of experience.

I would recommend not using a composting system at altitude as the decomposition process either doesn't work or is so slow it is ineffective. It is labour intensive as well.

I recommend urine separation. You may have an issue some time during extreme cold periods with the tube freezing so make it large. Guests change the barrels from an inventory put in place during the annual maintenance.

I recommend a helicopter barrel system with annual servicing. We fly fuel in (lights, stove etc) and barrels out. Pretty much a balance.

For a new hut propane is the best fuel source.

We separate grey water using a barrel buried in the ground to provide settling. The barrel is pierced just below the top and the top layer is drained to a gravel field. The system is cleaned each year with the waste going to the human solids waste barrel.

I'm on Skype if you would like to talk.

David Toole

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Geoff Hill

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Jan 10, 2012, 7:46:42 PM1/10/12
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I concur with David.  Many issues with conventional North American composting toilet environments.  I've seen/heard/read/found very few success stories that are backed up by data or are peer-reviewed.   The research shows that very few systems heat up to thermophilic conditions necessary to kill pathogens.  Low temperature pathways do not assure pathogen destruction.. on the contrary, much evidence to show that highly infective viruses and hookworms can survive multiple years in low-temperature fecal matter.  The uncertainty behind compost toilet efficacy leads most National Park operations to fly out 'end-product' irrespective of brand or style of system.  I'm dubious as to whether the cost of extra maintenance and addition of considerable bulking agent (flown in) balances the novelty of having a composting toilet or any biochemical benefit (mass reduction, pathogen reduction, nutrient reclamation) when compared with the cost, risk, and impact of conventional freely draining pit toilet or in comparison to the barrel fly out.  Comparing barrels to composters in these helicopter serviced situations, I suspect that it would be cheaper and safer overall to divert urine directly to the environment (rather than contaminate it with pathogens then discharge it as is the case with most composting toilet designs), and fly the condensed pathogen rich excrement directly out in barrels, saving the hassle of adding bulking agent, raking pile, wetting pile, extracting trash, and risk associated with shovelling end-product from the chamber to a barrel through awkward movements.  These are my opinions about the concept of composting toilet environments.   I can point readers to numerous governmental and scientific publications if they wish to read deeper into this topic.

Sites that are serviced with helicopters can extract solid waste barrels with limited extra expense, risk, hassle.  Urine diversion is pretty easy, and effective at reducing mass in a barrel by 50-70% compared to a barrel that collects all excrement at or near a hut or campground environment.  This should help equal the load in with the load out.  Extracting solid excrement from a 200L drum is more difficult for pump truck than sewage barrel with lots of urine.  I did a study that found 4 times as long, at least double the volume of the excrement in water is required (separate container on septic truck), and the job was pretty gross.  Nevertheless, can be done.  

Catching urine from male urination only is easy (urinal).  Catching urine from those sitting (women) or those peeing and pooing at same time, is more difficult.  Urine diversion seats are one of the only available options in NA currently.  Might be some other designs in NZ.  Good one in Wales (Natsol).  Most people are not used to the urine diversion seat, don't appreciate it, or understand the importance of not clogging the urine catchment.  When this happens, they become quite gross.  So either need  a good education campaign or a hut custodian to clean the catchment.  

Or just go with male urinals, 20-40%? reduction, and then you've got slightly more dense barrels that are easy for septic truck to suck.  Need to run a mass balance to get exact numbers.  Or just have a budget to fly an extra trip if necessary.

Helicopters aren't the most sustainable device ever, but perhaps the site isn't sustainable if it requires helicopter use.  Two perspectives.

Living humus filter has been used successfully in NZ.  Tom Hopkins at DOC should have some more info for you.  Urine diversion important there as well.

Vermicomposting toilets are successfully employed at dozens of high elevation sites in France and Switzerland.  High use, cold average temperature, high winter use.  Google Ecosphere Technologies.  I'm travelling there this month to document process and end-products.

Pit toilets are adequate at sites with enough soil and adequate distance to ground water and surface water.  Google: "Separation Distances NZ" for a in-depth analysis of these conditions.

michael richardson

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Jan 10, 2012, 7:58:47 PM1/10/12
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David,
 
Thanks for that response.  
 
I don't use Skype but use GoogleChat if you have that, or I am happy to call if you have a land line.
 
This hut has been around for donkey's years and is all electric from the nearby skifield, so the only access is for major works and the septic system.  Helicopter access is for special despensation only (medical emergencies etc) but construction or maintenance is normally accomodated too. 
 
Helicopters are the standard for most alpine toilets here, but we would like to fully explore what other options there are before commiting to a system reliant on helicopter or snow cat (although that is where most of the discussions are currently heading).  We will be aiming for a fully self contained toilet system, so a urine separater may not be accepted by the authorities.  There will also be no on site disposal for anything from the toilet, as that is what we are taking out of the equation now.  Only grey water (kitchen and bathroom sink) will go to ground once through primary treatment.  The site is basically rock (andesite) so any work below ground is very difficult.  
 
We do have some subfloor under the toilets on a north facing wall so this is the logical place to get the most heat.  My thinking is we either accept all the liquids, and pump everything to barrels or a snowcat for removal, or we get rid of all the liquid on site through evapouration, which needs a solar system or electric, and may not work for stints of 2-3 weeks when the weather is well below freezing or pipes are blocked. 
 
Most comments are that composting systems are not appropriate for an alpine setting.  However, these systems still provide a self contained means to treat the waste (i.e. dry it out) even if the composting action does not perform over the winter months.  I would be very interested in any experience of systems that provide a 'holding pattern' over colder months i.e. storage without excessive smell but can then provide some composting or simply drying action when the temperatures warm up again in summer and usage is low.
 
Do you have any systems in Canada that are not helicopter accessed or drain liquids to the ground? I understand Vermicompost is typically intolerant to intermitant useage as it is likely to freeze in winter and completely desicate in summer when there is no use for 4-5 months. I will have to read the reference on that but thought I better post this before another 3 replys come in. 
 
And thanks Geoff for your other responses.  Sounds like lots of active posters with an interest in this field.
 
 
Thanks again
 
Michael

Geoff Hill

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Jan 10, 2012, 8:43:47 PM1/10/12
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Or pack it out to central processing (sewage plant, composting, vermicomposting)

Geoff

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Roger Robinson

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Jan 11, 2012, 2:33:21 AM1/11/12
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Hi Michael,

Thanks for contacting the group. I am no expert with composting but
have experience with large volume packout.

You may be able to get by using 5 gallon buckets that are lined with
compostable bags. Your use of 24 bunks would possibly indicate a
maximum of say 25-30 uses per day. 30 uses excluding most of the urine
would fill a 5 gallon bucket. Urine diversion is the key to making
this type of inexpensive packout work. One novel approach here would
be to have one toilet room for urine and one room for poo. This would
compel women to use the "urine only" room. The buckets could easily be
managed for removal by snow machine, etc. This simple packout can
freeze which occurs with our similar system (Clean Mountain Cans
"CMC's") on Denali. Hut folks will have to be diligent at replacing 5
gallon buckets though this does not seem to be a problem for the
Mountain House on the Ruth Glacier in Denali National Park. Here they
use the smaller 2 gallon CMC which is also lined and does not have
urine diversion. This smaller 5-10 person hut goes through about one
CMC a day and does not have a care taker. Lining the buckets make for
fast cleaning and if the bags are compostable, not plastic, they can
be composted with the waste.
You can research similar systems use by river folks, here's an example:

http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/ak/gdo/pdf_files.Par.89360.File.dat/lnt_toilets.pdf

I hope this helps with your research.

Cheers,
Roger


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Manager: "Managing Human Waste in the Wild"
Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park

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Karen Rollins

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Jan 12, 2012, 12:05:35 PM1/12/12
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Hi Michael,

I'll cut to the chase... If you have road access or snow machine access pump out is your best bet. 

Install a fan to control odours.

Karen Rollins
BEES Project Director
Karen Rollins

Marina_...@nps.gov

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Jan 12, 2012, 12:28:16 PM1/12/12
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Michael,

I agree that with access, pump out is the best solution. In addition, a
pump out system which also reduces volume is an even better solution. I
have designed systems using Biological Mediation Systems Vault Evaporator.
This is a shallow vault system with forced air (using grid or solar power)
which reduces the volume of waste significantly and therefore reduces
pumping frequency. See the article at:
http://www.nttp.net/resources/trailbuilding/valutevap.html

If you would like more information on systems I've designed using the Vault
Evaporator system, please contact me.

Marina Connors


*******************************
Marina S. Connors, PE
Civil Engineer
National Park Service
Intermountain Regional Office - Denver
12795 W. Alameda Parkway
Lakewood, CO 80228
Phone: 303-969-2838
Fax: 303-969-2063
*****************************


Karen Rollins
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Re: [Managing Human Waste in the
01/12/2012 10:05 Wild] Low Temperature Alpine
AM Toilets


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Geoff Hill

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Jan 12, 2012, 12:59:37 PM1/12/12
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I've heard less favorable reviews from BMS clients. I'd like to see an independent analytical review of performance. Perhaps they could be valuable in highly evaporative environments. But I am skeptical of their value in cold humid environments. The BMS systems at Mt Rainier are frozen cubes most of the year.

Others such as Mike in Eldorado have had issues with their BMS composters.

If vehicle access is available and urine cannot be discharged, I agree, pump out with a truck is likely to be easiest, cheapest, least exposure risk during extraction, and low environmental contamination risk.

Geoff

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Geoff Hill

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Jan 12, 2012, 1:21:28 PM1/12/12
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Having said all that, a case could still be made for pack out. With limited access points, club membership, pack out might work. Roger and I agree that it is one of the simplest, cheapest, and most sustainable long term strategies for alpine waste management. However, urine likely to be dispersed randomly. Need long term commitment.

Geoff

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michael richardson

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Jan 12, 2012, 4:28:11 PM1/12/12
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We will likely focused on two options. 1- the pump out option using a low flush toilet to a subfloor vault, to be serviced by a snowgroomer that has a tank on board. This option is reasonably logical, makes sense for the main hut we need to address urgently. 
 
However, this pumping solutions don't expand anything that has been done before, and won't help us for other huts in the system.  Some of our smaller huts are still using a long drop (I imagine an unlined hole in the ground that is not serviced for a generation) and we foresee needing to up the ante on these toilets at some time in the future, and a pumped solution will not be feasible.  As Geoff has mentioned below, a pack out solution may be more feasible in a low use club setting, where access is remote, and ongoing costs are a concern.  So the second option  - 2 - is a mass reduction system that at the very least descicates the waste, and may provide some further decompostition during warmer months (how much is the big question).  
 
We are also weighing up the option of using both, as we have two pedestals.  One would be a standard low flush toilet, dropping into a tank (biggest feasible for the subfloor space).  the second would be an ongrade composting unit, that would effectively act to dry out the waste only, and be cleared by club members and bagged for removal (or if we are lazy or the waste doesn't dry out - transfer into the pumped system and clock it up to research).  We can then revise teh solution in the future once we can compare performance.
 
Of course it would be better representation of performance if we just installed both internal toilets with a pumped system as most are recommending, and leave any experiments for an outhouse next to the hut, that allows us to test the performance of a system with the comfort of having a tried and true system inside if it needed.  We can then move (yes by helicopter) the outhouse to another location on the mountain that needs an independent toilet.  We do need to develop a solution that can replace outdated systems for low use huts.  It is all club money and for the most volunteer input so our primary concern is exploring options that provide the best long term solution to minimise costly maintenance/fly outs etc. 
 
Thanks for the many links and references to different systems.  I've yet to look at them all so will be and interesting weekend reading.
 
Kind regards
 
Michael

Rodney Garrard

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Jan 12, 2012, 7:02:26 PM1/12/12
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Hi Micheal,
 
Your last statement is key: costs & club resources Why not try a combination of passive tech- using a composting solar "hot box" for low long-term costs, efficiency (given you have machine access), and envi sustainability given your location in a world heritage area, combined with a form of a pack out system (for individual users & by machine) for those users that can and will. In addition, the club could gain financial support from the likes of Tangata Whenua/Local & Regional Councils/DoC for trying out the envi sustainability of such a combination. The club would gain good profile for trying suitable waste management solutions and for shifting values for how visitors should begin to assume responsibility for their waste in a WHS. The hot box does not need to function all year round to dramatically reduce your costs and be a drain on club resources. The urine diversification will be a tough one to sell to TW, but you would gain respect by at least dealing with 50% of the problem, being proactive and not following the same old trend.
 
Get a good handle of your audience (including both hut users and financial supporters) and promote why you are doing it.
 
Cheers,
Rodney


> On 2012-01-10, at 4:58 PM, michael richardson <mcbrichardson@gmail..com>

Geoff Hill

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Jan 12, 2012, 7:26:51 PM1/12/12
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Hey Group and Rodney, 

I'm not sure I agree with your recommendation of Solar Hot Box.  Seems as though they are going to remove all solids from the site.  So objective ought to center around mass reduction, handling, and cost rather than pathogen content.  Solar hot box as applied by Yosemite did an acceptable job at post-treating compost waste into order to achieve EPA Title 40 part 503 for pathogen destruction and allowable discharge onsite.  But they're not looking at solids disposal onsite from what I read.   Further, a short spell of high temp isn't going to deliver mass reduction to any noticeable degree, other than some evaporation of water.  I think that Yosemite stopped the Hot Box because it was labor intensive.  Reading the description it sure sounded labor intensive.

There is no proof anywhere I've read of substantial degradation through microbial respiration in composting toilets.  Moreover, I've measured very little reduction in volatile solids in very old end-product from compost toilets.   Thus composting is not effective in mass reduction, especially when considering all the bulking agent 'required'.

Mt. Rainier also has a form of Solar Hot Box at Camp Muir.  It also has a form of urine separation to the BMS evaporator.  Very elaborate.  Dr. Rich Lechleitner spends considerable time repairing and maintaining Lexan panels, plugging leaks, filling gaps, and shovelling wire baskets.  Again, I've very skeptical that all the effort is worth a small fracton of evaporation from faeces.  The urine was frozen solid most of the year.

I desiccated my own human turd on a wire mesh inside a heated chamber with a 110CFM fan vented out of the lab.  It was horrifically stinky.  Took about 72 hours with air temperatures at 50C to reach 75% reduction in mass.  Poop formed a hard crust impermeable to water vapor transport.  I then tried it with a 2000W 30A blower in the Bugaboos (2000m) in a expanded metal mesh drum liner, 1500W heater and 800 W dehumidifier.  About 20 poops per day.  I weighed mass change.  Was significant, but not worth the effort compared to basic urine separation.  The only way it would have been viable is if I could have incinerated it onsite.  Still too wet, even with a Smart Ash Cyclonic Incinerator.   Poops pile up and then desiccation does not happen.  Publication being reviewed.  I'll send when accepted.

I then tried with solar radiation.  Not significantly better than urine diversion alone.

Joe Arnold built solar toilets in RMNP, but the site considerations are unique, very high elevation, strong winds, limited usage, limited season, and very large solar hot air panels.  Urine discharged / evaporated.  Trailside - high elevation (not much urination my guess).  Strong winds high solar exposure (strong evaporative pressure).  Low use (high surface area exposed per poop).  

I think we need to get away from 'tech' solutions unless they have been reviewed independently to prove performance, reliability, longevity, and ease of operation.  Even then need to choose very specifically for your site considerations.

Karen Rollins

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Jan 12, 2012, 7:28:12 PM1/12/12
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Michael,

Below is an excerpt from a document BEES is putting together (to be published on the BEES website later this month). It compares carry-out cost to barrel fly out cost. The carry-out bags used for the cost comparison are the individual ones with biologically active chemicals that breakdown the waste so they can be sent to a landfill not a waste treatment facility. So a little more expensive than collecting in compostable plastic bags. The point is that the individual carry-out system is more cost efficient at low use facilities, but as use increases (above 208 overnights/year), the barrel fly out becomes more cost efficient.

Carry-out

User carryout involves the user carrying out his or her own waste in puncture proof, sealable bags. Commercial products for this purpose may contain biologically active substances to break down the waste in the bag and render it eligible for landfill disposal. Urine containers house a substance to gel the liquid, preventing any leakage. Users carry their own waste to an area where ground transportation can be economically used to move waste to a landfill or appropriate sanitation facility.

This method is suitable for individual use away from a roofed accommodation such as single or multi day mountaineering trips. User carry-out is also suitable for low use mountain shelters because of the low cost when the number of uses is low. However, as the number of uses increases, the barrel fly-out method is more economical (see graph below). The breaking point is 208 uses/overnights.

User compliance is key for this practice to succeed. Non-compliance may result in randomly placed waste, which could pose health risks, as well as detract from the beauty of the alpine setting. The problem is becoming more apparent along popular mountaineering routes where use continues to increase. Education is required to encourage users to change old habits, and initially, policing will also be required.

Assumptions:

The cost of a bag for user carry-out is $3.
One user carry-out bag will accommodate one overnight stay.
120 overnights will fill a 150 litre barrel.
Three barrels can be flown out at one time with a 407 helicopter costing $2,500 per hour and a round trip is 15 minutes.
Costs do not include education plan and policing to obtain 100% user compliance for carry-out.
Costs do not include barrel fly-out staff time, transportation costs to take barrel contents and user bag contents to waste treatment facility and cost to process the waste.


I also have cost comparisons for incinerating and composting if you are interested.


Karen Rollins

BEES Project Director

www.beeshive.org 


Geoff Hill

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Jan 12, 2012, 7:31:14 PM1/12/12
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What is the source / brand for bag with chemical?  

Geoff

Karen Rollins

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Jan 12, 2012, 7:46:29 PM1/12/12
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Geoff,

Restop is the source I am referencing for the carry out product, but there may be others?

Also attached is a .pdf of the carry-out vs barrel fly out cost comparison since my graph didn't seem to come across in the last email.

Karen
Carryout vs barrel flyout cost.pdf

Geoff Hill

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Jan 12, 2012, 7:52:14 PM1/12/12
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I believe people can access the Stantec Report off your website?  Images are not postable on the google group.

Therein folks interested can look up cost assumptions associated with the comparisons.  
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<Carryout vs barrel flyout cost.pdf>

Ben Lawhon

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Jan 12, 2012, 9:00:06 PM1/12/12
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There are two others:

http://www.cleanwaste.com/

http://www.biffybag.com/

Ben Lawhon
Education Director
Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics
P.O. Box 997, Boulder, CO 80306
1.800.332.4100
P: 303.442.8222 x104
F: 303.442.8217
http://www.LNT.org  

Make an impact by not leaving one...




From: Karen Rollins <bees...@telus.net>
Reply-To: <managing-human-w...@googlegroups.com>
Date: Thu, 12 Jan 2012 17:46:29 -0700
To: <managing-human-w...@googlegroups.com>
Subject: Re: [Managing Human Waste in the Wild] Low Temperature Alpine Toilets
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On 2012-01-12, at 5:31 PM, Geoff Hill wrote:

What is the source / brand for bag with chemical?  

Geoff


On 2012-01-12, at 4:28 PM, Karen Rollins wrote:

Michael,

Below is an excerpt from a document BEES is putting together (to be published on the BEES website later this month). It compares carry-out cost to barrel fly out cost. The carry-out bags used for the cost comparison are the individual ones with biologically active chemicals that breakdown the waste so they can be sent to a landfill not a waste treatment facility. So a little more expensive than collecting in compostable plastic bags. The point is that the individual carry-out system is more cost efficient at low use facilities, but as use increases (above 208 overnights/year), the barrel fly out becomes more cost efficient.

Carry-out
User carryout involves the user carrying out his or her own waste in puncture proof, sealable bags. Commercial products for this purpose may contain biologically active substances to break down the waste in the bag and render it eligible for landfill disposal. Urine containers house a substance to gel the liquid, preventing any leakage. Users carry their own waste to an area where ground transportation can be economically used to move waste to a landfill or appropriate sanitation facility.

This method is suitable for individual use away from a roofed accommodation such as single or multi day mountaineering trips. User carry-out is also suitable for low use mountain shelters because of the low cost when the number of uses is low. However, as the number of uses increases, the barrel fly-out method is more economical (see graph below). The breaking point is 208 uses/overnights.

User compliance is key for this practice to succeed. Non-compliance may result in randomly placed waste, which could pose health risks, as well as detract from the beauty of the alpine setting. The problem is becoming more apparent along popular mountaineering routes where use continues to increase. Education is required to encourage users to change old habits, and initially, policing will also be required.



Assumptions:

The cost of a bag for user carry-out is $3.
One user carry-out bag will accommodate one overnight stay.
120 overnights will fill a 150 litre barrel.
Three barrels can be flown out at one time with a 407 helicopter costing $2,500 per hour and a round trip is 15 minutes.
Costs do not include education plan and policing to obtain 100% user compliance for carry-out.
Costs do not include barrel fly-out staff time, transportation costs to take barrel contents and user bag contents to waste treatment facility and cost to process the waste.


I also have cost comparisons for incinerating and composting if you are interested.



Karen Rollins

BEES Project Director






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Geoff Hill

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Jan 13, 2012, 1:29:47 PM1/13/12
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MSDS on Restop II says contents are enzymes and starch. 

Enzymes and starch are not going to render a turd safe.  Much more than enzymes is needed to kill pathogens and stabilize material.  

Biffy Bag and Clean Waste appear to be similar in the nature, having liquid absorbent, maybe some enzymes, and odor control.  

All state that bag and contents can be disposed into the landfill.  This disposal strategy accomplishes the task of removing the waste from the area of high value (Alpine / backcountry) to the area of low value (landfill) but does not deal with the great issue of nutrient reclamation that plagues our society.  Results will be slow anoxic decay of organic matter producing methane, a greenhouse gas 18x stronger than CO2.   Most of us would agree that mass disposal of raw excrement to a landfill is not a sustainable strategy, so I'm not sure disposal of these individual fecal deposits fits the bill either.  Yes, this is taking the issue all the way, looking at the life cycle impacts.  Yes, this is somewhat unrealistic.  The immediate problem is waste contamination in area of high use and limited infrastructure to deal with human waste and personal collection bags can reduce this risk.

There is one product that has been analytically proven to kill pathogens.   http://www.peepoople.com/showpage.php?page=3_8
It uses a urea liner, which is inert until it comes in contact with fecal matter, at which point it breaks down into ammonia and carbonate.  Ammonia levels are so high that within two-four weeks all pathogens have been destroyed.  The toxicity of ammonia on pathogens has been well documented on many scales.  Nitrogen content of fecal matter will be quite high after this.  This product was designed to be buried in shallow soil after use and eventually add nutrients back to soil without introducing risk of pathogen contamination.  Think alternative to open defecation in Africa.



Geoff






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On 2012-01-12, at 5:31 PM, Geoff Hill wrote:

Kathleen Meyer

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Jan 11, 2012, 1:48:21 PM1/11/12
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Michael, hi!

While we’re on this particular subject, the latest gamut of "pack-it-out" products—that is, washable-reusable containers or various biodegradable bags with cosmic poop powders—is covered in the new, third edition of How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art. Plus the do-it-yourself Soil Can, a 5-gallon bucket system with a nifty, screw-on, Gamma Seal Lid, somewhat similar to what Roger mentioned). The Soil Can was developed by the BLM in Oregon for river runners, ATVers, and horse packers. In their case, people supply their own; it puts the responsibility in the lap of the outdoor goer rather than on the shoulders of the park or government agency. The bucket is seeded with 2 inches of peat moss or potting soil, and also covered with more after every deposit, which makes for NO stink if most of the peeing is separate (women sometimes have a difficult time going separately). 

With your cabin situation, there would be pros and cons with using the Soil Can: the contents, because it involves no bagging, can be dumped directly into a vault toilet or holding facility, to await pumping or humanure composting. But you’d have to provide removal from the cabin, and then a bucket cleaning service. The buckets don’t get grossly icky, but they do need sterilization before the next use. A few links follow. . .

Gamma Seal Lids: Google and you’ll get all kinds of them.

For a sturdy, longer-lasting, 5-gallon bucket (much better than the usual pickle or drywall-mud bucket that you’ll find at the hardware store), and it comes with a Gamma Lid and seat, check out the commode bucket at RESTOP

Find The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure (in large quantities) at the author’s Website Joseph Jenkins or, coincidentally, check out my blog’s latest posting on Shooting the Shit.

Best of luck in this New Year,
Kathleen

Kathleen Meyer
Author of How to Shit in the Woods
P.O. Box 342
Victor, MT 59875


Karen Rollins

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Jan 16, 2012, 12:45:06 PM1/16/12
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Group,

Does anyone else have any experience with this type of carry out bag? Are they being placed in regular trash? Do Parks accept these type of bags in their trash bins? 

Can anyone tell me the mechanism by which enzymes breakdown the waste? or if this method doesn't actually work, are manufacturers promising something that can't be delivered? 

Karen

Assumptions:

The cost of a bag for user carry-out is $3.
One user carry-out bag will accommodate one overnight stay.
120 overnights will fill a 150 litre barrel.
Three barrels can be flown out at one time with a 407 helicopter costing $2,500 per hour and a round trip is 15 minutes.
Costs do not include education plan and policing to obtain 100% user compliance for carry-out.
Costs do not include barrel fly-out staff time, transportation costs to take barrel contents and user bag contents to waste treatment facility and cost to process the waste.


I also have cost comparisons for incinerating and composting if you are interested.


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Kathleen Meyer

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Jan 16, 2012, 1:04:59 PM1/16/12
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Karen, hey, in answer to your side email, and for the group . . .

Yes, buy that book! It keeps this old girl charging along on the next six poopy campaigns.

As for the double-bag pack-out products, I can only relay what I know from experience and the many casual reports that come to me. Rather than rate these products, I try to give people enough info to make decisions. In larger degree, I see myself as a cheerleader—there are always different strokes for different folks and situations. 

First off, the poop powders are all proprietary recipes similar to NASA’s magic formula that’s been used in the space shuttle. So I guess you have to decide whether the government, as well as the manufacturer, is trustworthy. Also bear in mind that the EPA does not “approve” products. They have guidelines for what can be send to landfills and untreated human waste is not one of them. A company will usually say something like their product is "in line with EPA guidelines.” (If you ever see a product that says “approved by the EPA,” you’ll know they’re full of it.) How well the EPA polices these things is unknown to me. The poop powders basically claim to gel the liquid, neutralize the odor (or at least hit it in the head), and start the fecal matter biodegrading. If anyone’s heard of any actual independent studies, I’d love to know about it. 

My personal experience is only with the RESTOP bags that have an outer bag of gas impervious Mylar. They work great, they don’t smell. I’d recommend them (and do) to anyone for their ease of use and pleasantness of packing out. No feedback on the Biffy Bag has reached me. It came on the market just as my new edition went to print and I managed to slip it in. It’s a little bit different design, but also has an outer Mylar bag. I’ve never used the Go Anywhere Toilet Kit (aka Wag Bag), a double plastic bagging system, but often hear complaints about their odor and also that they’ve suffered puncture, or can pop if you happen to sit on the corner of a backpack where one is stashed. 

As for the biodegradability of the bagging itself, I’ve heard it can take 6 to 8 months, or more. If anyone has real data from an independent source, please holler, or correct me on any of this.

When we’re living in a more perfect world, we’ll be composting human manure, using it to replenish the soil. I line right up behind Geoff Hill in this respect, zooming out to take in the larger sustainable picture, with the idea to keep reaching for it. I just skimmed the Peepoo bag studies—these conditions are nothing new to me but Holy Crap! reminders are good and it’s a powerful dose of the complexities involved in any kind of change, here sanitation levels in dirt-poor, water-starved regions (before going on your first exciting trek/climb of the year, tie your affluent self in a chair and read just their tables of contents; it will instantly cure any miniscule residual revulsion for personal poop-packing, by means of lifestyle guilt trip)—but I didn’t happen to come across the science of the actual biodegrading into manure. Peepoo, nonetheless, seems headed in an excellent direction.

Some years ago, I visited Joe Jenkins’ place in Pennsylvania and was duly impressed. Cold winters there, and his pile stays hot when it’s below zero F. He’s been at it now for about forty years, brought up six kids on it. He has the science all figured out. Now goes all over the world on his own dime to help communities get started. Watch YouTube clip http://youtu.be/k86rzVGqfEg showing a site that he helped set up (after Haiti’s earthquake) and keeps checking in on.

Back to New Zealand, and backcountries elsewhere. For low-use sites (small Forest Service cabins, fire lookouts, hunting camps, noncommercial river camps, etc), I gravitate toward a Soil Can set-up (using the RESTOP commode bucket, which stands up both to heat and freezing, and a person can sit on it). Can be packed in and out by mule, raft, hiker’s pack frame, sled, snowmobile. If you use potting soil (peat moss is better), then, because no bags are involved, the contents can be dumped into a vault toilet at a trailhead, take bucket home and clean it with a toilet bowl brush. Cheap, easy to assemble, not much water required. Oregon’s BLM is having great success teaching the public that taking responsibility for their own turds is no big deal. And they (the BLM) have added dump chutes to the outside of their vault toilets.

Leaves only one more step—establishing composting sites near trailheads and takeouts.

My conclusion is: For now, get this stuff out of the backcountry however you can convince people to participate, and then remain flexible about where it goes after that. We’re evolving.

Michael, the prices of bag products are often negotiable for larger quantities.

ENOUGH.

Here’s to a New Year of finding no human (or dog) scat along the trail. And sending out some prayers—whatever your kind are—to Africa.

Cheers,

Kathleen

    Karen, aren’t you glad you asked! Sorry, I hadn’t planned to write another book.

Kathleen Meyer
Author of How to Shit in the Woods
P.O. Box 342
Victor, MT 59875

Geoff Hill

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Jan 16, 2012, 6:50:10 PM1/16/12
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en·zyme noun  (from dictionary.com)

any of various proteins, as pepsin, originating from living cells and capable of producing certain chemical changes in organic substances by catalytic action, as in digestion.

Interpretation: enzyme catalyzes a biological process which relies on a larger biological system

You could smother a fecal deposit with enzyme inside a bag, but if the proper conditions for pathogen destruction and material stabilization (decomposition (aka oxidation of some form)) aren't present, you're going to end up with a poo smothered in powder inside an airtight bag.

There are many methods of destroying pathogens with human fecal matter
Incineration
Thermophilic aerobic digestion (aqueous conditions >55C for 30+minutes)
Thermophilic anaerobic digestion (aqueous conditions >50C 10 days)
Thermophilic composting (solid material 55C - weeks,)
Other high heat treatment (shorter times higher temp)
Desiccation (very very low %moisture (like <5%) (not certified under most regulations)
pH (>12 for hours-days)  (certified with OMRR and EPA)
Ammonia toxicity (aqueous or solid medium (4000mg/kg solids)  (not certified with many regulations, but emerging as good solution for small scale)
vermicomposting.. (pathogen destruction a combination of multiple pathways faciliated inside worm gut) (not certified, limited research)
There are many methods for stabilizing carbon (shortening chains to the point at which spontaneous decomposition doesn't happen (aka oxidizing)
Incineration
Aerobic / anaerorobic Digestion, floculation, often followed by composting
Composting (thermophilic followed by mesophilic (weeks to months))
pH (>12 hours-days)
mesophilic - aka natural decay / decomposition with bacteria, fungi, etc (rotting wood in forest, etc) (20+C weeks, 0-20C years)
invertebrate consumption (black fly, cockroach, vermicomposting)

Many of these biological processes involve enzyme activity, such as the excretion of enzymes by microbes to hydrolyze organic carbon material prior to ingestion of simpler compounds, but all enzymes require a larger process (and environment) which drives the enzyme activity and controls the reaction and release of enzyme and utilizes the end-products of the reaction for something.

I'm not dissing pack-out products.  They serve a great need to extract fecal matter from sensitive backcountry and alpine locations.  This is their primary function and they do a great job at it.  I recently was hired by Parks Canada to consult on waste management of a large northern park which had limited access point, primarily by plane, and I recomened they switch their entire waste management system from barrels and dysfunctional composting toilets to self-managed fly out using CMC's or equivalent.  Forecasts were for savings of many thousands of dollars each year, even considering capital costs of containers (assuming the cleaning was contracted at the drop-off towns).

Unless specifically designed to do so, pack-out bags do not destroy pathogens or stabilize fecal matter.  Starch and enzymes are not sufficient, from my understanding of biochemistry and the requirements to kill pathogens within fecal matter.

This product is designed to kill pathogens via ammonia toxicity in the bag.  2-4 weeks at ambient temps (20C)

Here is link: you're going to need to buy paper or have access to journals through university
Water Science & Technology—WST | 59.9 | 2009
Peepoo bag: self-sanitising single use biodegradable toilet
Bjo ̈ rn Vinnera ̊ s, Mikael Hedenkvist, Annika Nordin and Anders Wilhelmson

Geoff Hill

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Jan 16, 2012, 7:27:07 PM1/16/12
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I've never seen a public compost toilet at or anywhere near thermophilic temperatures.  I've sampled from dozens and read about many dozens more. Pete tells me he was able to record thermophilic temperatures in batch-bin composting toilets he's managed, but the operational expense is considerable, and only do-able at high use sites, easily accessed for frequent maintenance. These temperatures are required by all provincial (state), national (and foreign), regulations to kill pathogens in the composting process, making it safe for onsite disposal.  Jenkins book on humanure composting assumes thermophilic temperatures are attained.  Little discussion of reality that most public systems operate at ambient temps.

If these systems were meeting these regulated temperatures, they'd be working according to the definition of composting.    Because they don't reach high temps, the only action allowable by regulation (and feasible) is to remove the material to a proper biosolids treatment facility.  You can probably get away with burying it, because it isn't policed, but technically, you'd probably need a land application permit in most cases.

Pete Antos-ketcham and I spoke at length about this and from this I came to the opinion that the only reason I can see for installing a conventional composting toilet (aka: mesophilic, mix urine and poo and wood chips, hope microbes are doing their job, but have no way of really knowing) is where:

A) pit toilets will clearly contaminate ground water
B) there are no resources for matend-product extraction

In these cases, elevating the toilet above the ground (and ground water) and hoping a combination of desiccation, ammonia toxicity, microbial degradation, and long storage time (>3years) is achieving adequate destruction of viruses, hookworms, and other less resistant pathogens.  Material then buried below the surface where rodents, vectors, kids won't mess with it.   But really, this just sounds like an elevated pit toilet doesn't it? instead of moving the toilet, the pit gets moved.

There are options to retrofit the compost toilet for vermicomposting: Ecosphere Technologies did this in Europe prior to making their own toilet product.  A group of Swedish researchers and I have been commissioned to document Vermicomposting as a process in Ecosphere technologies toilets.  Will report in Feb.  Also have lab experiments operating as part of my PhD to verify.  Results summer 2012.

There are also post-treatments which destroy pathogens (pH, ammonia, heat).

Pete and I spoke about trailing some of these systems on the Mouldering Toilets on the Appalachian trail.

Roger Robinson

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Jan 16, 2012, 7:27:33 PM1/16/12
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Hi all,

We originally looked at adding Poo Powder to our Clean Mountain Cans
and then disposing the contents in the landfill in the Matanuska
Susitna Borough. Their engineer did not want live human waste disposed
of in the land fill. In our early research (2000-01) we found that the
Poo Powder only stabilized the waste so it made the waste easier to
handle but it did not destroy anything. One other problem with the
Powder was that it would plug up a septic system if discharged in one.
I am not sure if this Powder's chemical make-up has changed but we'll
need confirmation from the disposable bag folks. This would be good
to get more clarification here...

Cheers,
Roger

Kathleen Meyer

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Jan 17, 2012, 1:37:47 PM1/17/12
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Hmmm? I seem to have opened a can of worms big enough to vermiculture all of Kansas.

Perhaps I wasn’t clear, Geoff—I didn’t intend to be promoting backcountry composting “toilets,” as such (over the years, I’ve only witnessed a handful of happy ones myself), but rather the Jenkins’ method using open-air composting bins of human fecal matter, urine, and toilet paper (in conjunction with a cover material) that definitely reach temperatures more than high enough for more than long enough to destroy pathogens. They’re generally household or small community endeavors. The traditional larger operations are married to heavy equipment and fuel consumption; they more often than not produce disgruntled neighbors, compromise waterways, and turn out a product that’s, yes, pathogen-free but full of heavy metals, toxic industry waste, and loads of pharmaceuticals that were all flushed into a city sewer system. The beauty of bin composting is having no water added in the first place.

Of course these small sites require attention. But they also produce a viable product. Dump everything into the cost-mix and they come out ahead. They would be perfectly reasonable located conveniently, like Scat Machines, near trailheads and takeouts. I’m not suggesting a small, unattended pile at every switchback. Under mildly trained supervision, Jenkins’ approach looks about as sane as anything I’ve seen. I don’t claim to be a scientist, but I have a good lay understanding of the subject.

My passion is for budging culturally shame-related toilet sensibilities. For offering empathy to neophytes. For encouraging personal responsibility in the backcountry before conditions reach the stage of needing to be regulated and mandatory. For elevating outback sanitation, preventing watercourse pollution, and valuing wild country aesthetics. Maybe that’s pie in the sky to some, but it’s where my efforts go. Go! Humor and a friendly, so to speak, bedside manner with the bedpan can shift mountains. And, as we all work together, we’re coming closer to having the various pieces to the many puzzles.

Regarding the pack-out bagging products, we do need to hear from them. I’d hate to find out I’ve been promoting unethically-backed advertising.

Be well, be wild, pack-out your poop,
Kathleen

Geoff Hill

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Jan 17, 2012, 2:16:06 PM1/17/12
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HI Kathleen 

Thanks for the email.  No harm or insult intended on my part.  I see it as my job in this field to search for the facts and ensure they line up with perceived reality and the underlying objectives of the actions taken.   There are many objectives in this field, but the primary one I hear most is the development of safe, cost effective, remote site waste management systems that have low risk for environmental contamination and disease transfer to workers or site visitors.

Science is good at some things and is weak at others.  It is good at using facts to raise caution where caution is due.  This is the intention of my research and postings on this forum.

One of the major concerns in managing human waste is pathogen transmission.  I think we can all agree.  Decades of science has linked the impacts of improperly managed human waste with disease transmission.

These pathogens are small and the human eye cannot perceive them.  We can use basic indicators: smells like poo, color of poo, shape of poo, to help us evaluate risk, but these indicators are only effective for very raw fecal matter.  Nearing the other end, moving towards low risk, we have no great way of discerning pathogen content, and it has been shown that viruses, protozoa, and hook worms can survive within a cool fecal particle for years.

We can mitigate risk: wash our hands, put toilets far from water sources, educate people to safe sanitation, avoid putting poo compost on vegetables soon to be harvested, don't put it in garden at all, avoid getting sick with pathogens from other sources, and many other risk avoidance/mitigation strategies.  

Bottom line is that we cannot tell the pathogen content of poo or compost with laboratory analysis.  Lab tests are expensive, and just because you don't find it doesn't mean its not there (lab samples are small, compost piles are big and heterogenous).  Ample science tells us that at temperatures >55C for days - weeks pathogens die... even the smallest toughest ones (viruses and hookworm eggs).  So regulatory bodies use temperature as our primary stamp of approval, followed up by a few other tests.  The Jenkins humanure toilet concept is awesome and I respect anyone able to operate a small thermophilic batch or continuous compost process on their own.  Temps >55C followed by numerous mixings probably results in very low risk and low pathogen content.  Jenkins book is a great resource for establishing this process.  However, my research and readings of compost toilet systems indicate that thermophilic temperatures in public systems are not the norm, in fact they are rare (very rare).  As such this leads to considerable concern for pathogen content, and dealing properly with this risk is the responsibility of the agency managing the waste system.  If its a public setting they must meet public codes of practice for residual discharge.  The result is that most National Park operations in Canada and the USA remove compost toilet waste to sewage plant or incineration plant.  This is much cheaper and easier than trying to figure out exactly how much risk exists due to inadequate process temperature.  But this mode of waste management is not inline with the design intention or cost analysis.  These toilets were often installed under the assumption that all end-products were safe (including blackwater leachate).  Compare this to a pit toilet which is constructed knowing that contents contain pathogens and must be placed certain distances from seasonal high groundwater and surface water.  

I'm all about nutrient reclamation.  I've been researching all manner of waste management systems for years.  I drive a truck that runs on waste vegetable oil.  I built a hydroponic system that was fertilized with nothing but my own urine. I've been collecting my own fecal matter for experiments for 6 months.  I have 60lbs of dog poo and 30lbs of human poo in my shed.  I'm not a fecalphobe.  I support the initiative of waste reclamation, but only within safe limits and with an understanding of the intention behind regulations. 

So what I'm getting at is lets make sure what we're advocating, supporting, and promoting is backed up by valid proof.  


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Karen Rollins

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Jan 17, 2012, 5:04:56 PM1/17/12